Samuel Sillen, Masses and Mainstream
August 1949, pp. 79-81
Samuel Sillen was the editor of Masses and Mainstream, a Communist journal published in America.
Like his previous diatribe against the human race, Animal Farm, George Orwell’s new book has received an ovation in the capitalist press. The gush of comparisons with Swift and Dostoyevsky has washed away the few remaining pebbles of literary probity. Not even the robots of Orwell’s dyspeptic vision of the world in 1984 seem as solidly regimented as the freedom-shouters who chose it for the Book of the Month Club, serialized it in Reader’s Digest, illustrated it in eight pages of Life, and wrote pious homilies on it in Partisan Review and the New York Times. Indeed the response is far more significant than the book itself; it demonstrates that Orwell’s sickness is epidemic.
The premise of the fable is that capitalism has ceased to exist in 1984; and the moral is that if capitalism departs the world will go to pot. The earth is divided into three ‘socialist’ areas, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, which unlike the good old days of free enterprise are in perpetual warfare. The hero, Winston Smith, lives on Airstrip One (England) and balks at the power-crazed regime. He is nabbed by the Thought Police, tortured with fiendish devices, and finally he wins the privilege of being shot1 when he learns to love the invisible dictator.
Orwell’s nightmare is also inhabited by the ‘proles, ’ who constitute a mere 85 per cent of Oceania and who are described with fear and loathing as ignorant, servile, brutish. A critic of Orwell’s earlier novel in the Saturday Review of Literature expressed a profound insight when he noted: ‘The message of Animal Farm seems to be…that people are no damn good.’
‘People are no damn good’—that is precisely the message of this plodding tale as well. For Orwell, life is a dunghill, and after a while the ‘animals’ look ‘from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. ’
1 Winston is not shot at the end of 1984.